Brake Failure While Towing – How to Handle a Potentially Dangerous Situation

You have the weekend off and decide to spend it at the Vaal. You’re pulling the boat behind your car or bakkie, when your brakes suddenly fail. What happened? And what can you do?

Trailers go out of control if they are pushed beyond their maximum speed. Even good drivers can lose control if the road surface is rough, or if there’s a sudden strong wind or drag caused by a passing vehicle. Needing to manoeuvre a vehicle suddenly, to avoid a collision or an obstruction in the road, can also cause a lack of control. Remember to always operate the vehicle at a safe speed.

Starting and stopping a vehicle with a tow trailer must always be done slowly. It takes more time to stop your vehicle when you’ve got a trailer attached. Plan for twice the time and distance you would need without a trailer. Looking ahead and anticipating stops is another smart way to drive. That way, you won’t need to hit the brake suddenly. The trailer may jack-knife if you hit the brake in a panic. If that happens, or if the trailer appears to be playing tag with your rear bumper, remove your foot from the brake pedal immediately.

Overheating can result from overusing the brakes. Use lower grades when going down a hill. This will allow engine compression to slow and stop the vehicle.

In the event of brake failure, especially in mountainous regions, runaway truck ramps are your best bet.

Runaway Truck Ramps for Brake failure While Towing

Runaway truck ramps, also called truck escape ramps or TERs, can be found on highways that traverse steep downgrades. Contrary to what their name implies, TERs aren’t just for folks driving big trucks. Drivers with overheated and malfunctioning breaks mainly find runaway truck ramps useful in two situations:

  • When braking problems arise in regions of heavy traffic and population on short but steep hills
  • In sparsely inhabited mountain regions on long grades.

Runaway truck ramps have been constructed in areas where frequent accidents involving big trucks have occurred. They may also be used as a preventative measure to keep children riding on school buses safe. Although they can be constructed anywhere, they are most often located in mountainous areas.

What To Do If Your Brakes Fail – If There is No Runaway Truck Ramp

First, downshift to a lower gear.

Second, if you have regular brakes, pump the brake pedal fast and hard to build up brake fluid pressure. If the brakes haven’t started working after three or four pumps go on the step three, which is use the parking brake or handbrake. Gradually apply the parking brake and be prepared for the car to skid.

If none of the brakes work, put the car into a low gear and steer in a safe direction until the car completely rolls to a stop. Don’t turn the steering wheel too much but just enough to avoid obstacles. If you’re at highway speeds it may be advisable to scrape your car against the guard rail or divider using the friction to slow the car down. If you do this, come in at a shallow angle and gently rub the car against it. In order to warn other drivers that your brakes are out you can honk your horn and flash your lights

If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), you should practice sudden stops on both dry and wet pavement in a safe off street situation. When using anti-lock brakes the rule of thumb is to press the pedal all the way to the floor. You will feel a strong vibration in the pedal which is a sign that the ABS is working properly.

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